Viljo Revell’s Toronto City Hall and Nathan Philips Square (1965) is a well-loved Modernist icon. Completed after his death, the heritage-designated square was true to the spatial arrangement Revell had envisioned; over time, however, it had become run-down and dysfunctional. In 2007, the City of Toronto launched an international competition to redesign NPS. The winning design strategically rethinks the Square to transform it into an exemplary 21st-Century public space, drawing inspiration from Revell’s own references to classical Athenian political spaces. Through the redesign or relocation of existing elements and a new series of buildings and gardens framing the open plaza, the NPS Revitalization enhances the functionality, versatility, and appeal of Toronto’s signature civic space while augmenting this monumental heritage site’s “connectedness” to its surroundings.

View of the theatre from the east (photo: Steven Evans Photography)
View of the theatre at midday
View of the theatre stage (photo: Steven Evans Photography)
View of the stage from the elevated walkways
View of the theatre (photo: Steven Evans Photography)
The theatre at dusk

Revell’s elevated walkways frame the Square and focus views towards the council chamber – as in the Athenian agora, the threshold of a porch (stoa) at the perimeter clearly defined the interior void. This definition was never fully developed, however, in NPS as built. To strengthen the coherence of the Square, the design team executed four tactical moves:

  1. Open the Square – remove clutter at the centre to accommodate all kinds of large cultural gatherings
  2. Create programmed, porous, landscaped “green rooms” around the perimeter to frame the square
  3. Create new activated connections between the raised walkway and the Square
  4. Strengthen links between levels and between zones using new architecture as the bridge to connect the two levels of the square
Disappearing fountains (photo: Steven Evans Photography)
Disappearing fountains
Stage and skate pavilion align to frame the square (photo: Steven Evans Photography)
Stage and skate pavilion align to frame the square

Major architectural components include the redesigned Skate Pavilion and creation of a permanent Stage with back-of-house suspended below in the parking garage. All new structures are multi-purpose and connect to the walkways. The glass-canopied, terraced form of the theatre provides covered public space and casual seating when not in use for performances, and its stairs connect the raised walkway to the Square. Small events can take place with performers facing westward toward stairs that double as bleacher seating; for larger events, those on the stage face eastward to overlook the entire Square.

View of the skate pavilion looking southwest (photo: Steven Evans Photography)
The skate pavilion in the summer
Skate pavilion upper level terrace (photo: Steven Evans Photpgraphy)
Skate pavilion upper level terrace · Photo: Steven Evans Photpgraphy
Skate pavilion breezeway (photo: Steven Evans Photography)
Skate pavilion breezeway
View of the skate pavilion from the southwest (photo: Steven Evans Photography)
Skate pavilion breezeway

A Peace Garden added in 1983 near the centre of the Square had compromised the space’s openness and ability to accommodate crowds – relocating it to the western edge freed up the Square’s centre for larger events. The terraced seating of the new Peace Garden is a major structure that conceals the underground parking garage’s exhaust duct while muffling its sound and redirecting the airflow. Other elements include a playground redesign, a new Sculpture Garden, a new forecourt along Queen Street, and a future two-storey restaurant. Although not yet completed, the master plan includes refurbishing the existing elevated walkways with gardens and seating.

Peace garden at night (photo: Steven Evans Photography)
Peace garden at night
Peace garden (photo: Steven Evans Photography)
Peace garden
Queen Street streetscape (photo: Steven Evans Photography)
Queen Street streetscape
Playground (photo: Steven Evans Photography)
Playground

Prior to the revitalization, City Hall’s podium was a grim, paved void: it is now Toronto’s largest publicly accessible green roof, a popular urban retreat for sitting and strolling. The Podium Roof Garden’s plantings, which change seasonally from bright yellows and oranges in the southwest to deep reds and purples in the northeast, were chosen to thrive in the site’s challenging shade and wind conditions.

Podium roof garden (photo: Peter Schaudt)
Podium roof garden · Photo: Peter Schaudt
The Podium green roof from above (photo: Steven Evans Photography)
The Podium green roof from above
The garden in fall (photo: Steven Evans Photography)
The garden in fall
The garden in spring (photo: Gabriel Li)
The garden in spring · Photo: Gabriel Li
Entry to the sculpture garden (photo: Steven Evans Photography)
Entry to the sculpture garden
Nuit Blanche (the next day) (photo: Steven Evans Photograpy)
Nuit Blanche (the next day) · Photo: Steven Evans Photograpy

project index

  1. A Conversation of Views
  2. Admiral Road Garden
  3. Airdrie Road Residence
  4. Albany Avenue Residence
  5. Aporia Records
  6. Asphalt Poetry
  7. – Poem
  8. Baby Point Gardens
  9. Beach Village BIA Master Plan
  10. Beaty Residence
  11. Bennington Heights Garden
  12. Berkeley Street Residence
  13. Bin-Scarth Garden
  14. Blink and you miss it.
  15. – Poem
  16. Blue Note
  17. Booth Avenue Residence
  18. Boustrophedon Garden
  19. Braemore Gardens Residence
  20. Browning Avenue Residence
  21. Brunswick Avenue Residence
  22. Camp Arowhon Offices
  23. Canadian Firefighters Memorial
  24. Channelled Buried Moved Lost
  25. Chocolate Loft
  26. City Instrument
  27. Clarendon Garden
  28. Conversation Piece
  29. Creemore Farm
  30. Danforth Mosaic BIA
  31. Dickson Park Garden
  32. Dilworth Residence
  33. Don Landing Revitalization
  34. Dublin Grounds of Remembrance
  35. Dundas Roncesvalles Peace Garden
  36. Dupont-by-the-Castle BIA
  37. East Point Bird Sanctuary
  38. Elizabeth Fry Society
  39. Ellsworth Residence
  40. Face to Face | Tête à Tête
  41. First Avenue Garden
  42. Foote’s Pond Wood
  43. Forest Hill Village Streetscape
  44. Gaze, Glimpse, Glance
  45. Goldring Landscape
  46. Gormley Garden
  47. Greener P
  48. Greer Road Garden
  49. Greer Road Residence
  50. Guelph Bridge
  51. Head in the Clouds
  52. Junction Craft Brewery
  53. Kelpies Competition
  54. Kew Gardens Streetscape
  55. Le jardin du repos
  56. Lenticular Curtain
  57. Liza’s Garden
  58. Lynwood Garden
  59. Macroscape
  60. Markham Garden One
  61. Markham Street Residence Two
  62. Midtown Yonge Streetscape
  63. Nathan Phillips Square
  64. – Streetscape
  65. – Peace Garden
  66. – Podium Roof Garden
  67. Orchard View Garden
  68. Osgoode Atkinson Green Competition
  69. Owl Cottage
  70. Paperstone Scissors
  71. Peripheral Sitings
  72. Pottery Road Crossing
  73. rare
  74. Ravine Forecourt
  75. Ribbon of the Lower Don
  76. Riverside BIA Master Plan
  77. Roxborough Garden One
  78. Roxborough Garden Two
  79. Sheridan College
  80. – Trafalgar Campus Master Plan
  81. Spadina Quay Wetland
  82. Stratford Market Square Competition
  83. Stratford Patterson Theatre Competition
  84. Superlegible
  85. Sweet Farm
  86. Sweet Farm Pond House
  87. The Meadows Reconsidered
  88. The Red Sash
  89. Thick & Thin
  90. Tipping Point
  91. Tranby Garden
  92. Tree House Residence
  93. UTM Welcome Landscape
  94. Venice Biennale 2012
  95. Vermont Square Park
  96. Vernon Avenue Garden
  97. Walmer Road Residence
  98. Wellesley Cottages Garden
  99. Wells Street Residence
  100. Westminster Residence
  101. With Words as Their Actions
  102. Woodlawn Avenue Residence
  103. Woven Stories
  104. York Park